Your social security number has become the single piece of information connected to your identity, and is something you want to keep private.
For myself, I never give out my social security number unless it’s absolutely required. If I’m not sure, I ask.
But how safe is your social security number?
Well, that just might depend on the hacker or identity thief, but that aside, let’s focus on the facts.
- Many organizations, businesses or agencies today will often require that you provide your social security number in order for them to provide you with a service or to offer you a job.
As most people know, our social security number is the key to much of our personal and decidedly private information, such as medical history, financial records or other personal information.
The California Office of Privacy Protection website has a plethora of valuable information about SSNs and about protecting your social security number. They say that SSNs have “acquired a special status as a security risk,” as they are widely used by businesses and governments as well as by other organizations. All the more reason to keep your card close to your chest, but not literally…
- You should keep a social security card locked in the safe at home or the safety security box at the bank. Losing your wallet or purse would be bad enough… canceling credit cards, checks, library cards… but they can be changed and refunded. You only get one identity.
According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse website, when social security numbers were first issued in 1936, the government specified that they were solely for the purpose of calculating social security benefits. However today, SSNs are often used to identification a person. Some examples of things SSNs are used for, among many other things, are employee files, medical records, and even University ID cards.
- The GOA, or U.S. Government Accounting Office (the investigative arm of Congress) first reported in 2006, on the “potential for identity theft posed by SSN’s included in public records.” That’s not to say that it wasn’t a problem before then.
- “GAO has estimated that 85 percent of the largest, most populated counties surveyed make records that may contain SSNs available in bulk sales or online. Most often SSNs appear in state and local court files and local property ownership records.” Not particularly good news for anyone who’s interested in staying super private.
Due to the threat of identity theft using social security numbers many states are now trying to limit the use of SSNs in public records and some jurisdictions are also making an effort to “redact” SSNs from public records but, this is timely and costly. Basically all this information is telling me that my SSN could possibly still be out there somewhere in a public record.
Since this finding that social security numbers pose an increased risk of identity theft, the federal government has taken some measures to curtail the use of SSNs in public records. There was a task force initiated in 2008 called the “Identity Theft Task Force” that did research and made recommendations on the use of SSNs in records.
Departments such as the Office of Management and Budget, the IRS, and the Military have all taken measures in some way or another to curtail the use of SSNs by agencies and in the military. Some of these things are relatively new and are still being implemented. For example, in June of this year, SSNs will “begin to disappear form military identification cards… they will be replaced by a Department of Defense identification number.”
In December of 2010, the “Social Security Number Protection Act of 2010” was enacted. But, it will take 3 years to “phase in.” This Act “will prohibit federal, state, or local agencies from: (1) displaying the Social Security account number of any individual, or any derivative of such number, on any check issued for any payment by the agency; or (2) employing, or entering into a contract for the use or employment of, prisoners in any capacity that would allow them access to the Social Security account numbers of other individuals.”
California has been a leader in protecting its resident’s privacy with regards to SSNs. Among the many restrictions and removal of SSNs, the provisions for use of SSNs are stated in California Civil Code Section 1798.85—
- “Printing SSNs on ID cards or badges”,
- “Printing SSNs on documents mailed to customers, unless the law requires it or the document is a form or application…
- which applies to businesses, government, and other entities.”
These are only a few of the provisions. This website provides information about the actual law and if you want to read more: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/cgi-bin/displaycode?section=civ&group=01001-02000&file=1798.85-1798.89
Clearly, if it’s not absolutely required, don’t put it down your Social Security Number. And if you’re ever not sure as to why exactly someone is asking for your social security number ask or do a little research yourself to see if it is required in certain situations because, in some cases such as with the Department of Motor Vehicles, your SSN can be required by law and in others, it’s not necessary. This also involves a little common sense so, just be careful. Fabulous advice, I know, but I’m not here to give you advice on this.
Categories: State News and Tips